Artist: Adam and The Ants
Album: Kings of the Wild Frontier (35th Anniversary 2CD reissue)
Label: CBS/Legacy/Sony Music
While most critics maintain that The Ramones’ debut album and Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols rank as the two most important music and culture-defining artifactsin the punk rock pantheon, that’s really just a shortcut to thinking. The truth is that one particular album stands out as a subversive document which doesn’t overtly attempt to stand out from the pack – rather, it wanted to shape/mold/pervert pop from the inside and redefine what both punk and pop were, as well as what they could be. That album was Kings of the Wild Frontier and the band who made it was Adam and The Ants.
Surprised? Well, follow this line of logic and you’ll discover that it’s well-beyond dispute. First, the album’s subversion of mainstream rock values was unprecedented. Other punk bands got off being rebels or operating “outside of society,” but Adam Ant sought to work from the inside in order to overthrow the entertainment establishment at the time; it was punk, but very, very poppy on its face – it was the epitome of subversive activity committed to song.
All of those elements and aspects of the ‘Ant music’ [as a form, not a reference to the song title –ed] design are present and obvious from the moment “Dog Eat Dog” hits the ground and opens the album. There, amid the polyrhythmic beat produced by two drummers, listeners will still be able to feel their pulses begin to rise involuntarily because it just remains so simultaneously attention-consuming and stimulating; lyrics like “We’re gonna move real good – yeah right/ We’re gonna dress so fine – OK/ It’s dog eat dog eat dog eat dog/ Leapfrog the dog/ And brush me daddy-O” are totally cringe-worthy on paper, but fade into the background of a great song as one listens. That has really always been how pop music has been intended to work (if we’re going to be honest), butthe form and structure is celebrated for the few minutes it takes for “Dog East Dog” to play through. It just leaves a great aftertaste and then moves on.
That dead-on-and-then-out song structure proves to become a pattern as Kings of the Wild Frontier progresses. Songs like “Antmusic,” “Los Rancheros,” “Don’t Be Square (Be There)” and the sort of piracy-identified (well, sort of) anthem “Jolly Roger” follow a similar paradigm in that, lyrically, there really isn’t a whole lot to them, but the music is hooky enough to at least get a few heads to bob. Not only that, each song has the sense to get out before it gets too repetitive and so leave eyes shining brightly from them rather than anything getting dull.
After the regular running of Kings of the Wild Frontier runs out, a few B-sides and extra goodies have been shoehorned onto the first disc (which some older fans may care about), but then the second disc illustrates a slightly different kind of energy thanks to the inclusion of a live show recording circa 1981. From a historical standpoint, the live show is pretty cool because it illustrates just how strong they really WERE live, but it’s still a bonus disc for a reason: it’s not at all essential (and the same is true of the previously unreleased rough cut tracks which close the running.
So how does this set measure up? Without spilling too much self-important ink, the easiest way to say it is that this reissue of Kings of the Wild Frontier isn’t bad but would have been better were it nothing more than a remixed and remastered re-presentation of the original album – with none of the frills attached. [Bill Adams]
The 35th Anniversary 2CD reissue of Kings of the Wild Frontier is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.